by: Bob Shannon
April’s opening day of trout season arrives after a long winter of anticipation. The gear has been prepped. Now it’s time to start thinking about the methods you can use during early season to help guarantee you a successful opportunity in fighting early season trout. When fishing bodies of water, anglers always have to consider the water column, or depth, they anticipate fish to either be holding or feeding. During the spring or cold water months of the year, fish will most often be found holding and feeding in the deepest water column and generally in slower current speeds. In order to target fish at those depths, anglers need to consider three things: fly selection and color, terminal tackle, and fishing tactics.
When considering fly selection and color, always keep in mind that early season trout have been waiting all winter for spring feeding opportunities. As water temperatures rise in the spring, the metabolism of fish begins to increase. They start foraging and responding more to feeding opportunities, so larger sized fly patterns in darker shades will trigger trout to feed. Whether they are streamer patterns that imitate bait fish or larger sized nymphs or larvae, fish will always respond better to these bigger bites. Streamer favorites in the early spring include wooly buggers in black, olive, brown, and sometimes white. Don’t be afraid to try a couple of my color favorites, yellow and purple. Adding flashaboo color material to your flies will add more sparkle to these patterns, especially in cloudy water conditions. Other streamer patterns to consider would be silver minnow, black ghost, mickey fin, and golden demon. Other early season fly patterns that work great are large stone fly patterns that would include colors black, brown and golden. I prefer tying these patterns with tungsten beads to ensure the fly travels deep and with rubber legs to add life and movement to the fly. Thinking outside the “fly box”, no pun intended, other early season favorites of mine include egg patterns in various colors, and san juan worms. If all else fails, I’ll always finish an unproductive pool by dredging a Vermont stream favorite, crayfish pattern, to add that filet mignon approach to my fly selection.
When considering our terminal tackle ……Oh yeah, by the way, terminal tackle refers to all the accessories that you will need to help ensure better fly performance when fishing. Spring conditions will require terminal tackle that aids in keeping the fly deep. These include split shot weight, sink tip lines, and sink leaders. Strike indicators ( Bobbers) are a must for most sub-surface fly fishers. Trout sip and strike softly this time of year in many cases and those strikes will often be missed by even the most seasoned anglers. However, with the assistance of a strike indicator your hook-up should increase.
I prefer to use sink tip leaders in 3-foot, 5-foot, and 7-foot lengths. The shorter sink tip leaders are much easier to mend and control. You can manage the depth they are fished more easily than traditional sink tips which usually start at 15-foot lengths. Here at the Fly Rod Shop, we manufacture these leaders using Scientific Anglers, SA 14+express sink line cut to preferred lengths. I then attach the sink tip leader to our floating fly line systems. At the end of the sink tip section of my leader, I attach 3 to 5 foot lengths of either 12 lb., 10 lb., or 8 lb fluorocarbon tippet. By using the shorter length tippet sections, this allows the fly to travel close to the same sink rate as the sink tip leader. When fishing these leaders, try to maintain a consistent depth, and a consistent speed. This will allow the fly to travel at a slow enough speed for fish to respond.
Strike indicator fishing for most fly fisherman seems to be the most complex fishing method. Remember folks, it’s a bobber. Selecting indicators in the correct size for the conditions and needed weight is not as complex as we make it. Keep in mind in the early season, you must add sufficient weight to the leader to sink your fly to the proper depth. Indicator sizes need to be large enough to hold this weight off the bottom. Weighted strike indicator leaders systems that present the fly to the trout with a vertical drift is the most effective method of nymph fishing. My preference in indicator brands is Raven Floats, Football Floats, and Thing-A-Ma-Bobbers….. All of these indicators are manufactured in various sizes/diameters to allow anglers to select the correct size for the weight needed.
Some of my biggest trout of the season are caught early in the year before most of the dry fly fishing even begins. So remember to run it deep, fish it slow and bring the fly to the fish. Don’t expect the fish to come to your fly. My best advice for those venturing out on their own to learn these methods is to practice, practice, practice.